k.d. lang, Meet Alice; Alice, Meet k.d. Lang (Part Three)
December 7, 2012
k.d. lang told Alice she plans to rest. “I’ve been on tour for eighteen months,” she said. “I’m tired.”
Because of her poor hearing, Alice understood her to be announcing her retirement. “You can’t stop singing!”
It took some backtracking, but this frightful moment got straightened out. Rest for a spell but not retirement. They moved on to Tony Bennett.
Alice knows that k.d. lang and Tony Bennett made a CD together a while back. Before this visit, I’d tried to help Alice hear their songs because she would have enjoyed them, especially their version of “It’s a Wonderful World,” which Alice calls “Michael’s song” because he loved it and wanted it played at his funeral, which it was. (More about Michael here.) We had even tried listening on my iPad, but it just didn’t work.
She had seen Mr. Bennett on television recently though, and she leaned toward k.d., eager to share a tender morsel of gossip. “Did you know he sings to his dog?”
Animal lover k.d. lang was amused but did not seem surprised by this information.
Alice was suddenly struck again by the marvel before her. “k.d. lang is here!” she said, and then she sat back in her chair and moved on to yet another musician. “I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but I do like Lawrence Welk.”
k.d. lit up. “So do I!” She bent forward at the waist as if suddenly liberated from holding this enthusiasm in for so long and leaned even closer to Alice, the greatest display of camaraderie she’d shown so far.
Alice looked stunned. “You do?”
k.d. nodded. Yes indeed, it was true. “Where is he from?” she asked. “Vienna? Alsace-Lorraine?”
Alice wrinkled her brow at these exotic locations. “North Dakota,” she said. He’d been born on a farm down the road from her own prairie town. His people spoke American English with an unusual accent, a Russian/German blend, different from most other Germans or Russians in the state because they’d started in Germany, moved to Russia, and then emigrated to the U.S.
Alice told a brief version of her encounter with Lawrence Welk when he was a young musician, just starting out. “I was a little girl,” she said, “and he came over from his parents’ farm outside of Strasburg and played the accordion at the opera house. He stood up on this little stage. Nobody had ever heard of him. One of the townspeople got up there and played the piano alongside him. Then during one song, she kept playing the piano but he came down off the stage and walked up to my sister, LaRue, and asked her to dance.”
Her audience nodded, impressed.
“LaRue was maybe fifteen at the time,” Alice said.
“I think,” Alice continued, “that may have been the first time he did that, and then it became his trademark, you know, always coming out into the audience and asking someone to dance with him.” (For more of the story, see “The Accordion Player.”)
Alice exclaimed over this small town boy who had gone on to such success, even though here in front of her sat someone from an equally small town with an even larger audience.
But who’s counting numbers of fans accrued after rising like a giant plumed bird out of a tiny nest on the prairie? k.d. lang certainly didn’t appear to be.
The topic changed. Alice is interested in all women of her age group. She wanted to know about k.d.’s mother. How old was she? Where was she? How was she doing?
She is fine and she is 90, which to Alice now seems like a distant age. The other day she asked how old one of her nieces was, and when I told her she was 43, she laughed. Such a number! It was almost ridiculous, a faint mark on a long-ago page, all but forgotten.
k.d. talked a bit about her mother’s current life and then we moved on to the subject of Canada which, she informed Alice, is America’s biggest trading partner. Did Alice know this?
No, she did not. “We never hear about Canada,” she said. “We hear more about Mexico. But no, I’m sure most Americans don’t know that.”
“I think it’s okay with the Canadians that Americans don’t know that,” k.d. said wryly. Quiet Canada. May it continue to do its prolific trade with boisterous America in peace.
I knew Alice was interested in the conversation, but when she looked down at her hands for a moment it occurred to me that she’s really not used to talking for such a long time. She looked back up at k.d., who still sat calm and relaxed, ready to continue or to do whatever Alice wanted.
“Oh honey,” Alice said, “thank you so much for coming. It was so nice of you.”
We two youngsters took our cue and rose at once from our chairs.
I took this photograph:
k.d. and Alice said good-bye, and I escorted Alice’s guest back out to the lobby. On the way, we passed the new coffee shop with its new name on a freshly painted sign
“There it is,” k.d. lang said, smiling. “The Village Cup.”
And there’s our Alice, snug in her apartment at The Place, head spinning and spirit flying—even now, a week later. Michael (and Louis Armstrong) were right. It’s a wonderful world.
For how this visit came about, see k.d. lang, Meet Alice; Alice, Meet k.d. lang (Part One).
Part Two is here.